Climate Change is Here: How to Prepare for Flooding

Did you know that climate change is happening faster than scientists previously assessed? The public narrative around global climate change is that it’s a problem to worry about for the future - however, it’s a prevalent issue that’s impacting us now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time."

We’re seeing widespread effects on the environment today, driven by increased emissions of greenhouse gases that trap heat, leading to shrinking glaciers, sea levels rising, and more intense heat waves. According to the Third and Fourth National Climate Assessment Reports, the future effects of climate change in the United States include:

  • Sea levels rising 1-8 feet by 2100
  • Global warming will continue through this century and beyond
  • Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense
  • Increased droughts and heat waves
  • Longer wildfire season
  • Increased precipitation and flooding  
  • The growing season will lengthen, affecting ecosystems and agriculture  
  • Global temperatures will continue to rise  
  • Ice in the Arctic Ocean will decrease, impacting wildlife

One of the most devastating effects of climate change we’re seeing today in the United States is extreme flooding, both coastal and inland. As the instances of flooding continue to increase, communities, businesses and people’s livelihoods are impacted greatly. Let’s take a look at how global climate change is linked to the increase in flooding in the United States. 

What’s Causing Increased Flooding in the U.S.?

The Climate Science Special Report (issued as part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which reports on climate change in America) details an increase in flooding in midland America while occurrences of coastal flooding have doubled in decades. 

Although limited data makes it challenging to connect the increase of floods directly to climate change, the data we do have demonstrates that climate change exacerbates the factors that cause flooding. These factors include the following:

Heavier Precipitation

Since 1901, data shows that average US temperatures have increased by an average of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change experts believe that this number will increase several degrees more by 2100, demonstrating how rapidly and how much our country is heating up. 

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, precipitation increases. We’ve experienced more record-breaking rainfall in the past decade alone than any other time recorded. At this continued rate, studies show that heavy precipitation events are projected to increase by 50% by the end of this century. 

Heavier rainfall leads to:

  • Rising water levels in lakes and rivers
  • Sewage systems and drainages becoming overwhelmed
  • Flash flooding

Rapid Snowmelt

With warmer weather comes quicker snowmelt. Since 1950, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has reported that snowmelt-fed rivers have reached their peak flow earlier in the spring, which overwhelms sewage and drainage systems.

What this ultimately leads to is a double impact of spring rain and melting snow, increasing the risk of spring flooding. Additionally, winter and spring soils are often still frozen and unable to absorb the water. The Northwest region of America, which has a higher rain-to-snow ratio, can expect higher flood risks in the springtime for this reason. 

Stronger Hurricanes

One of the most noticeable impacts of climate change over the past century is the increased frequency and power of coastal storms, such as hurricanes. What used to be a rare occurrence, category 4 and 5 hurricanes (the most destructive), have become persistent and are expected to increase in frequency over the next 80 years. 

Stronger storms threaten more powerful storm surges, one of the main causes of devastating flooding. Experts report that storm surges can occur 17 times more frequently in America’s coastal regions by 2100. Furthermore, hurricanes are expected to be as much as 37 percent wetter near their center, which means torrential rainfall combined with gustier winds. In the past decades alone, the country has experienced the following deadly storms:

  • Hurricane Katrina in 2005
  • Hurricane Sandy in 2012
  • Hurricane Michael in 2018
  • Hurricane Laura in 2020
  • Hurricane Ida in 2021
  • Hurricane Ian in 2022

Sea Levels Rising

With ocean temperatures rising and glaciers and ice sheets melting, sea levels are rising across the globe. The ocean level is about seven to eight inches higher than they were in 1900 - at this rate, NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) projections show that coastal regions like the U.S. East Coast could see ocean levels as much as 9.8 feet higher by 2100. 

As sea levels rise, coastal flooding, high-tide flooding, river flooding, and flash floods are inevitable.

What We Can Do

The first step is to acknowledge that climate change is not the future - it’s happening right now. While this and weather events are factors that go into making a flood, human-driven elements play a significant role too. The construction of roads and other impermeable surfaces, under-maintained structures, outdated waterway management, and more homes being built on floodplains are all factors that lead to increased flooding. 

Some of the most catastrophic consequences of flooding include:

  • Loss of life (floods cause more than 100 U.S. fatalities annually)
  • Extreme property damage that upends lives
  • Economic losses with businesses shutting down
  • Costly flood-related losses, including insurance claims and repairing flood-damaged public infrastructure
  • Contamination and disease from floodwaters carrying raw sewage, toxic chemicals, and hazardous waste

Flood mitigation can save your property and your life. Flood mitigation involves reducing the risk of flooding and minimizing potential damage that can result from a flood. Proper flood mitigation requires a long-term strategy developed by experts in the field, including flood professionals, architects, engineers, and educators. 

At Flood Risk America, we go beyond simply selling a product. Our experienced flood professionals work with you to execute Commercial Flood Protection and Residential Flood Protection, including:

  • Flood Risk Analysis 
  • Floodproofing 
  • Flood Mapping 
  • Construction Consulting 

There is an effective flood protection solution for every business and home. Contact us to learn more.